Chesed at the Source1
We meet up in our parshah with several displays of the breadth and depth of Avraham’s chesed. We see him at the beginning of the parshah, running to wait on his decidedly unremarkable guests, as if they were royalty. Throughout, he runs and rushes, never mindful of his infirmity three days after his bris. He slaughters three animals, so that he can present each of his guests with the choice cut of tongue. Moreover, he places his ministering to the guests ahead of receiving the Shechinah, asking Hashem Himself to wait while he tends to them!
The outpouring of chesed does not end with this incident. Avraham earnestly prays for the wicked inhabitants of Sodom, despite their representing every value that he opposed. Avraham began the process of world tikun through tapping into Hashem’s midah of chesed. Inevitably, the spiritual balance of the world required a great counterforce to his unleashing this torrent of good. The opposing force came in the form of the culture of Sodom and Amorah, rooted in a cruelty that was the polar opposite of Avraham’s chesed. Chazal graphically portray their institutionalized evil, including forbidding hachnasas orchim – the very activity through which Avraham’s chesed is showcased. We would have imagined Avraham approving of the fate of Sodom, satisfied with the apparent victory of good over their evil, and relieved to see an end to their corrupting influence. Yet Avraham’s chesed rose above such considerations. Instead of being pleased with their just fate, he turns to daven, importune, beg of HKBH to spare them.
We see Avraham establish his eshel, which according to Chazal was an inn to offer food, drink and lodging to strangers, or a vehicle through which Avraham could act on his chesed-impulse to perform yet more acts of kindness for people.
Chesed of this sterling caliber did not appear in a vacuum. Surely Avraham was well practiced in his chesed by the time we observe it in our parshah! So why is it that a window to his chesed opens up specifically here, on the heels of his performance of the mitzvah of milah?
We can understand by building on the work of the Divrei Moshe, a talmid of the Besht. Anyone familiar with the deeper aspects of Torah knows that the performance of any mitzvah – even one seemingly preoccupied with concrete, physical objects – draws down supernal holiness from the Heavenly source of that mitzvah. Honoring one’s parents taps into the sefiros of Chochmah and Binah (also known as Abba and Eema) – provided that one acts for the purpose of responding to a Divine command. Should a person somehow honor his parents without having been so instructed, he will have done something valuable, but he will not draw from this Heavenly font of kedushah. (We express this thought each time we preface the performance of a mitzvah with the beracha “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos, and commanded us…” The mitzvos are 613 source-points of sanctification, of kedushah. Each mitzvah allows us to draw kedushah from the root of that mitzvah Above.)
Avraham was introduced to the mitzvah of milah by these words: “Walk before Me, and be perfect.” Chazal explain that Hashem conveyed to Avraham that he needed to rid himself of his inner dross, which blocked their union from achieving its fullness. Only by removing the orlah, the part that stopped up the full expression of Avraham’s capacity for holiness, did he perfect himself enough to allow an unencumbered relationship with Hashem, so that he became indeed a portion of Hashem from Above. (Before the bris, Avraham would be so overcome by any prophetic episode that he would fall to the ground, as was common with other prophets. After the bris, says the Tanchuma, Avraham was able to converse with Hashem while standing. The meaning of this is that the bris enabled Avraham to attain this perfected relationship, becoming a portion of Hashem, and thereby allowing him perfect connection with Him.
Avraham’s unique avodah was to begin the process of world tikkun. This process would necessitate reintroducing the different midos of Hashem2), and needed to begin with the midah of chesed, the most basic and primary of the active midos. His work would be followed by the remainder of the Seven Shepherds; the fulfillment of the remaining three would remain the task of Moshiach.
We see in our parshah that this avodah of tikun could only begin after Avraham’s bris. The rectification of the world required chesed that flowed from its pristine source, and this could not take place until Avraham achieved the perfection Hashem told him about. Once so perfected, once he was able to establish a freely-flowing connection with Hashem, Avraham’s chesed took on a completely different – and more significant – nature. It is for this reason that we are dropped willy-nilly into multiple examples of Avraham’s chesed in our parshah, without the Torah mentioning any earlier instances. All of his earlier chesed lacked a level of perfection. This level was achieved only after his performance of the mitzvah of milah. The earlier chesed did not contribute to the process of tikun. Moreover, it is quite possible that the incredible quality of Avraham’s chasadim shown in this parshah would not have been within his grasp before he reaped the fruits of the mitzvah of milah.
We ought to wonder about the Akeidah. Nisyonos in the Torah usually test the mettle of their target by clarifying the quality of a person’s key midah (Think of Yosef, for example.) If Avraham was to be tested, shouldn’t Hashem have devised a way of testing his chesed, which was his signature midah? Instead, the Akeidah seems to evaluate his capacity for the very opposite of what Avraham stood for!
Chazal tell us in Avos that the upshot of the Akeidah was indeed to demonstrate love – Avraham’s love for HKBH. The holy seforim teach us what happened when Hashem called to Avraham, asking him to take his son, his only son, the son he loved. The Divine mention of his love for his son set off an explosion of that love that knew no limit. (This was prefigured in the account of the creation of the rakia on the second day. Having been instructed by Hashem to “spread out,” the rakia did just that, expanding without limit. It would have continued to do so, were it not for the constraint of the Name Shakai – meaning He Who said “dai” – enough – to His creation.)
Where does this love come from? Love is at the very shoresh, the very core of the higher, perfected form of chesed we have been talking about. Our practice of chesed, our positive feelings of love, such as love of Torah and love of Klal Yisrael – all these are pathways to the ultimate goal of love for Hashem. Avraham showed this identity in its purest form. He showed that the immeasurable love he had for Yitzchak did not detract from, did not interfere with, indeed was not separate from his love of Hashem. To the contrary, he showed that his superabundant love for Yitzchok was but a manifestation of his love for Hashem, desirable because Hashem wanted him to love his son. At the moment that Hashem instructed otherwise – as soon as Hashem shifted the relationship with Yitzchok to a requirement to slaughter him – Avraham perceived that command as an exercise of his love for his Creator!
The bottom line of all of this is that it all carries over to our own development, to our own lives. The tikun of the world began with chesed, with the pure chesed Avraham was capable of after the bris. Each of us spends a lifetime in our own tikun. That tikun as well must begin with chesed! We take the first steps specifically with outpourings of love to our brethren. That, in turn, can become love of Torah, and ultimately get us to our destination of love of Hashem.
1Based on Nesivos Shalom pgs. 105-107
2These midos are the ten sefiros. The lower seven are “active;” they relate to the world of performance, and they are headed by chesed. Above them stand the top three, aloof from the coarseness of activity, and existing as more refined “intellects.”
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and Torah.org